A phrase we hear often as writers is “Show, don’t tell.” One way we can do this more effectively is to include descriptions using all five senses. Sensory words paint vivid pictures that relate to the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. In fiction, non-fiction and poetry, they serve as a type of shorthand to evoke memories or feelings that draw readers into your world. Some writers find it easy to include sense-related details in their writing. Most of us have to work at it.
A good exercise to help add detail using all five senses is to make a list. Here’s an incomplete list for Spring. Notice how much longer the sight list is? You have to work harder to find smell, taste, touch and sound.
Sight: sun showers, longer days, trees and grasses greening up, flowers blooming, buttercups, daffodils, tulips, lilies, dormant plants pushing back up through the earth, buds and blossoms on trees, increased animal activity, baby animal sightings, effects from breezes, warm weather clothes, rivers rise and run swiftly from snowmelt, more butterflies/bees/other insects (because of increased blossoms), people working in their yards, birds flying north, nest-building, the emergence of hibernating animals, plants pushing up through snow or ice, increased pollen in the air, umbrellas and rain boots, kids playing baseball, rainbows, cherry blossoms
Smell: the clean damp smell after it rains, newly turned dirt for gardens, floral scents
Taste: rain, Easter candy, morel mushrooms, fresh green onions
Touch: the sun’s warmth on your skin, the fresh touch of the breeze as opposed to the frigid one you’ve felt all winter long, spongy or grainy feel of dirt in the garden, dirt clods falling on your feet as you pull weeds, the clean feel of the air on your legs and arms after so much time wearing long sleeves and pants, allergy symptoms
Sound: rushing water, rain falling, bare feet slapping the pavement, puddle-splashing, birds chirping, frogs peeping, insects buzzing, kids-playing-outside sounds, the honk of geese as they return home, the crack of balls hitting bats
Mood: After so many months of cold weather and brown landscapes, spring brings a renewed sense of optimism. Spirits lift, people are more friendly and kind. Spring evokes hope and renewed vigor.
Symbolism: renewal, rebirth, beginnings, second chances, cleansing
Possible Cliches: spring chickens, April showers bring May flowers, robin’s egg blue
OTHER:Weather and seasons vary by region. Spring in Canada looks very different from spring in southern California. Temperate areas may have a very short spring, if any at all.
Don’t be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character’s emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.